There was once a man who was terrified of his own shadow and lived in fear of the sound of his own footsteps. Walking along one day he entered a panic and tried to flee at top speed. But as fast as he ran, his shadow and footsteps kept up with him and made him run all the faster, until he finally collapsed of exhaustion and died.

If he had only sat down in the shade of a tree, he would no longer have have been able to see his shadow or hear his own footsteps.

-Taoist story

Courage can be understood as the ability to do something that frightens you. We might also think of courage as the capacity to be strong in the face of pain or grief. Courage is not the absence of fear, but, quite the opposite, is dependent on fear. Without the presence of fear there can be no opportunity to show courage. From this perspective we can think of fear as an invitation and an opportunity to exercise strength and courage and bravery.

The above story illustrates that often it is the very fleeing of something that creates fear. When we turn towards fear, when we face and embrace that which scares us, we change our relationship with fear and so change the dynamic of how we experience fear. Turning towards something that frightens us is in itself an act of courage. When we relate to fear rather than from it, we can bring a quality of care and courage towards fear and so lessen its power to some degree.


Reflect on something that scares you. Rather than moving away from it or banishing the thought of it, simply look at it with curiosity and care. Investigate and examine its qualities as if it were an external object: What is the experience comprised of? What does it feel like in the body? What shape is it? What size? If it had a colour what would it be? Name the sensations that go with it. Where in the body is the energy most intense? What images and thoughts emerge in the mind? Simply observe your experience like a scientist conducting an experiment.

Become aware not just of the fear but also of your own presence, the part of you that is not afraid. What is aware of fear is not itself afraid. Notice what happens when you gently expose yourself to fear in small quantities. Does your experience change? Does the fear diminish?